Food waste project scoops €2m funding in SFI challenge

14 Sep 2022

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The winning team will use the funding to develop packaging that is sustainable and prolongs the shelf life of fresh produce.

A team of researchers looking to address food waste with a packaging innovation has been crowned the winner of the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Food Challenge.

The Leaf No Waste team has been awarded €2m in funding to keep developing the idea.

SFI’s Food Challenge is one of several under the Future Innovator Prize programme, which the agency launched in 2018 to encourage researchers to tackle societal problems through challenge-based funding.

Last year, Leaf No Waste was one of five teams shortlisted for the food-focused challenge funding.

Leaf No Waste focused on preventing food waste by optimising the packaging and prolonging the shelf life of fresh produce. The team noted that premature food spoilage and food waste was a side-effect of the increase in consumer demand for food in compostable and sustainable packaging.

The team worked to alleviate food spoilage caused by packaging by combining a silicon-based plant biostimulant and compostable plastic packaging.

The team has already conducted a series of preliminary field trials that suggest food waste could be reduced by as much as 50pc for certain products with its approach. It will now focus on packaging that uses silicon-based fortification for a range of Irish crops, in combination with compostable plastic packaging selection and design.

“This award presents a great opportunity for Leaf No Waste to find pathways to reduce food loss and identify the best use of alternative plastic packaging that will benefit growers, retailers and consumers alike,” said Lorraine Foley of TU Dublin, Leaf No Waste’s principal investigator.

“It will also enable food producers to move away from single-use plastic packaging in favour of more sustainable methods, uniquely positioning the Irish agriculture sector as a global leader in sustainable food production.”

Foley leads the Leaf No Waste team. Its other core members are TU Dublin’s Prof Jesus Frias Celayeta; Dr Lael Walsh and Dr Shivani Pathania of Teagasc; and Stephen McCormack of McCormack Family Farms.

Dr Ruth Freeman, director of science for society at SFI, commended the Leaf No Waste team on its approach.

“It is estimated that one-third of all food produced globally for human consumption is lost or wasted, representing massive systematic inefficiency. This inefficiency contributes to many significant national and global issues,” she said.

“This project, therefore, has the potential to have an impact in addressing problems such as land degradation, food insecurity and malnutrition.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com